GAINESVILLE -- In search of its first-ever playoff win, things looked bleak for Chestatee in the first six minutes against Grady, trailing 13-0.
But as bad as the first six minutes were, the final three minutes of the first half could not have been scripted any better for the War Eagles. Chestatee scored three touchdowns in the final 3:49 of the second quarter to erase the deficit and then pulled away for a 41-13 victory at War Eagles Stadium Friday night in the opening round of the Class AAAA playoffs.
The comeback proved that patience and perseverance are just as important as raw talent.
"We never panicked and just played our game. Everyone came together and just settled down," Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell said about his team's staying the course. "I think we got caught up in the moment at the beginning. The defense corrected the mistakes and just played a great game after the first couple of series."
Chestatee would yield just 194 total yards -- 125 coming on the first two series -- and just seven first downs for the game.
Tray Bryant had a huge game scoring three times for Chestatee (9-2) which also set a new school-record for wins in a season. Bryant would finish with 116 yards on 17 carries. Zac Cheshire finished with 110 yards on 28 carries for the War Eagles.
Luttrell said they are glad to get the playoff monkey off their backs. The War Eagles came into the game 0-3 all-time in the playoffs.
"It's a great feeling and we're proud of the guys' effort," he said. "We'll enjoy this one for a little bit and then we'll get ready for next week."
It started ominously for the War Eagles. Grady freshman Caylin Newton, younger brother of Cam, connected with Marlon Character on an 80-yard bomb on the opening play of the game for a quick 7-0 lead just 13 seconds into the game.
The Knights would then hold Chestatee on downs at the War Eagles' 45 after consecutive fumbled snaps on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1. Grady would then march down the field in nine plays, capped by a 1-yard TD run from Isiah Jenkins for a 13-0 lead after Chestatee blocked the extra point attempt with 5:58 left in the first quarter.
The War Eagles were ready to respond driving to the Knights' 11 with 38 seconds left in the first quarter but again were stopped on downs on a botched snap on fourth down.
After the first two Grady drives, the Chestatee defense made its adjustments and took control. The War Eagles allowed just two first downs the rest of the half and helped set up three Chestatee scores.
After trading punts early in the second quarter, the War Eagles stopped Grady on three plays and got a short field after a 22-yard punt put them on the Grady 25. Wyatt Burgess would cap a six-play drive with a 1-yard TD run to cut the lead to 13-7 with a Eddie Zamora extra point.
The Chestatee defense again held the Knights and the offense took advantage of a tired Grady defense. The War Eagles needed just five plays, capped by a 45-yard touchdown pass from Burgess to Khalil Cantrell to give them a 14-13 lead with 3:49 left in the half.
The defense would again hold and force another short Grady punt giving the offense the ball at the Knights' 30 with 2:15 left in the half. Three plays later Tray Bryant would slam into the end zone from four yards out to give Chestatee a 21-13 lead with just 1:19 left in the half.
The War Eagles defense was not done, however, Logan Cates would recover a Grady fumble at the Knights' 21 on the next play setting up an 8-yard TD run by Bryant three plays later for a 28-13 halftime lead.
Both defenses dictated the action in the third quarter. Grady stopped the War Eagles on consecutive drives and the Chestatee defense picked up where it left off in the first half when Cates snagged a tipped pass out of the air on the Knights' third play of the quarter.
Cates said the defense just stayed focused and tried to correct its early mistakes.
"We knew what we did wrong and we just tried to fix them," he said. "I love this team and it's great to be able to get the first playoff win."
Chestatee would put the game away in the fourth quarter with a 10-play drive, capped by Bryant's third touchdown of the game on another 1-yard run on fourth down for a 35-13 lead with 6:48 left.
Blake Buffington would seal the win for the War Eagles intercepting a Newton pass, his second of the game, and returning it 29 yards to the Grady 16. Zac Cheshire would score on a 12-yard run two plays later to push the lead to 41-13.
In fitting fashion, the Chestatee defense was on the field for the final play as Newton and the Knights took a knee to end the game.
Grady...........13....0....0....0 -- 13
Chestatee.....0...28....0...13 -- 41
GRA -- Character 80 pass from Newton (Carter kick) 7-0, 11:47
GRA -- Jenkins 1 run (kick blocked) 13-0, 5:58
CHS -- Burgess 1 run (Zamora kick) 13-7, 8:09
CHS -- Cantrell 45 pass from Burgess (Zamora kick) 14-13, 3:49
CHS -- Bryant 4 run (Zamora kick) 21-13, 1:19
CHS -- Bryant 8 run (Zamora kick) 28-13, 0:27
CHS -- Bryant 1 run (Zamora kick) 35-13, 6:48
CHS -- Cheshire 12 run (kick failed) 41-13, 5:41